To say I spent all summer anxiously waiting for this trip to start is a gross understatement. I was finally going to see Mt Everest after a certain pandemic kept me from doing so in 2020. The excitement was real! I’d ran, walked and hiked a lot in preparation and felt ready for whatever the Himalaya was going to throw my way. Nepal was the first stop on my Asia adventure, and was to be followed by equally exciting visits to Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines – my first time in the country.
Arriving in Kathmandu I felt a sense of familiarity, I was happy to be back. I spent a couple of weeks in Thamel finishing Destination: Egypt and organising everything for my hike. The first order of business was sorting out the visa extension and the hiking permits (of which there were a few!), then I had to buy some missing gear and also figure out how to get to Jiri, the hike’s starting point – a 10-hour bus ride away. Never a dull moment in Nepal! My plan was to hike for 4 weeks and I obviously didn’t want anything to go wrong.
The first section of the hike – a 6-day journey from Jiri to Lukla, Edmund Hillary’s original route – was good fun. It was not the gentle warm up to the Three Passes I had expected however, it was a little harder than that. I mean, you spend the first two days climbing steps and on the third day you’re already crossing mountain passes at over 3,500 metres – it’s brutal. Good practice for what was to come, but brutal all the same.
I spent part of my time in the company of Barry and Susan, an American couple in their 70s who were visiting Nepal for the 14th time. Veterans! I learned many lessons on Buddhism and Nepalese culture from them, which was inspiring. The Jiri to Lukla trail is mostly forgotten since most people nowadays fly directly to Lukla, so you get a lot of walking along deep valleys, forests, and villages where locals are always happy to greet you with a smiling namaste. It’s pretty unique and cool!
Some of the highlights were visiting a high-altitude monastery founded by refugee Tibetan monks in the 1960s, walking practically alone for hours on end, and just enjoying the local life a bit. It reminded me of the Annapurna Circuit in a way. What I definitely didn’t like was crossing some borderline dangerous landslide areas and being stuck behind slow-moving mule trains. Yeah, not a fan that.
Arriving in Namche – practically a city in the middle of the mountains, sitting at 3,440 metres – was a surprise. It was also the last time I had some sort of comfort before the “real” hike began. The next few stops were marked by outstanding views of Ama Dablam, which helped keep my heart warm when the temperatures suddenly dropped.
Along the way I met Dani, a Spanish loco, and we ended up travelling together for a few days. We climbed two fun 5000+ metre peaks (Nangkartshang and Chhukung Ri) before splitting. He went on to successfully climb Island Peak and I hit my first pass – the mighty Kongma La – which was a piece of work, especially when it came to crossing the Khumbu glacier.
Discomfort took over after this day. To give you an idea, it was so cold in Lobuche (4,940m) that the water froze in my bottle overnight. Inside the room. Certainly a lowlight of the trip! From Lobuche I went to the severely overrated Everest Base Camp, and Kala Patthar – another 5000+ metre peak that offers arguably one of the best views of Everest and surrounding mountains; Pumori, Nuptse, and Ama Dablam all looked particularly impressive from up there!
What followed was the second pass, Cho La, which included crossing an icy glacier. I was glad to have rented microspikes, let’s put it that way! Despite having had a good day I felt like I could top it off by taking on the Ngozumpa glacier and it turned out to be a mistake. Crossing (dry) glaciers is no joke and this being my second one on the trek I really should have known better. Regardless, arriving in the mountain oasis that is Gokyo was fantastic and despite being exhausted I was super excited to climb the last of four 5000+ metres peaks, Gokyo Ri. As expected, the views were nothing short of breathtaking. I was in awe, this was it.
The last pass – Renjo La – turned out to be the most rewarding. It offers unparalleled views of Mt Everest and a rare occasion to see the highest mountain in the world from a vantage point where it lives up to the title. After crossing the pass it’s a very steep 1,000-metre drop capable of putting the strongest knees to a stern test. At this stage, compared to when I started the hike, the temperature was dropping and the sky was getting a little cloudier so I was happy to finally be making it down to lower altitudes.
It took me a couple of days to reach Namche, and then another day to Lukla. I had originally planned to keep walking to Tumlingtar – a third hike – but wasn’t quite feeling it. Having just seen some of the highest mountains in the world and climbed a handful of 5,000-metre peaks, I can’t say the motivation was there. Also, the cold had gotten to me and I was a little tired of the limited food options on offer.
I felt like completing these two hard treks had been a solid success and looked forward to getting some time off before heading to Thailand. As such, I decided to book a flight from Lukla to Kathmandu (or Ramechhap rather, followed by a bumpy 5-hour van ride to the capital) and call it a day. Overall, despite a couple of challenging days, I was pleased with my performance and finished the hike feeling physically and mentally ready to tackle my first 6,000-metre peak at some point in the future. But for now, some much-needed R & R in Thailand awaited!